This is a story that will likely make you hungry, inspired, and hopefully thinking a little broader than you started. This is a story of passion and mystery, with a twist at the end. This is about an ice cream that uses no dairy, yet tastes as good as, if not better than its milk based counterparts. And you won’t want to choose it because you can’t have dairy, you’ll just like it because it’s good. Or so that’s what the folks behind Coconut Bliss are aiming for. Now I know, you’re saying, coconut based, that sounds (insert gushing or repulsed adjectives here)
Coconut Bliss makes all the standard flavors you’d expect and far beyond, from Vanilla Island to Chocolate Hazelnut Fudge, with some Strawberry Lemon Love thrown in for good measure. The flavor, when it hits your tongue, is distinctly focused on the flavor at hand. Coconut sits very much in the background, nearly undetected. It’s more the messenger rather than the flag bearer. They use very clean ingredients, all organic, and skip insulin spiking sugar for its more even keeled cousin, agave nectar.
In conversation with Larry Kaplowitz from Coconut Bliss however, coconut was front and center. It was simply what they chose to use to make ice cream for themselves, while living and working at the Lost Valley Educational Center. But why coconut? For them, it was a matter of both taste and ethics. Sure, there are plenty of soy and rice based options out there, but they didn’t meet the same taste standard for them as dairy based. Coconut milk, found at many local stores, seemed to meet that, giving great taste and feel without sacrifice.
Then something happened.
In the mold of Clif Bar, Ben & Jerry’s and other foodpreneurs, their friends went crazy for it, encouraging them to make more and sell it at stores. But where to find enough coconut milk? Ah, therein lies the mystery. Apparently it is a tightly guarded secret. Their favorite, from lots of taste testing, was that from Thailand. Three brands, all with the same taste. Same supplier? Nobody was saying. So they just bought can after small can of coconut milk, at one point using 2500 a day. And a really sturdy can opener. No joke!
Then one day, there was a peek behind the curtain. An employee saw, on a Alibaba a global supplier marketplace, the possible name behind the goods. After a lot of courting and an eventual visit in Thailand, Coconut Bliss had their direct source. No, they aren’t telling who it is either.
So they were in business, starting in Eugene, Oregon which according to Kaplowitz is a very fertile ground for new natural foods companies to start. Why? They have 7 independent natural foods stores, as compared to 3 in Portland, 2 in Seattle. And there’s the Williamette Sustainable Valley Foods Alliance, which is a powerful collective supporter and resource for fostering and growing such businesses.
Great. But my question to them was, what about the eco impact of shipping coconut milk from 9000 miles away versus using local dairy?
Larry was well prepared for this, telling me things about cows beyond what I knew about (large land use needs, methane emissions, etc) For example, cows drink an average 50 gallons a day. And he also opened my mind to the concept of biologically appropriate vs. a strictly local focus.
An example would be English beef. It’s a place where they have relatively limited land available, and must import the grain used to feed them. This, versus somewhere like New Zealand, which by it’s coastal focused population density and abundance of grass and grains naturally has all that’s needed to raise cows with ease, with much less resource intensity. Which is better, in this case? Local should of course be the first consideration in food choices, but then there’s considering the surrounding factors that contribute to it’s impact (or lack of it) as well.
The same idea goes with the coconuts. They have 650 acres of land, of which they do zero to raise them. As in no watering is done outside what rain, and they let the native plant life flourish around it, and allow termite mounds to ground on the trees, which it turns out is helpful, as the termites consume the fallen plant remains on the floor below.
When it’s time to harvest, they simply drive through the acres, pressing down the plants between the trees so workers can go in and harvest them. Here again is an example of raising things where they grow well, versus forcing them into being, with a lot of external inputs, as in English beef.
And they’re organic. By accident. Kaplowitz told me that one year the growers didn’t have enough money for fertilizer. So they went without, and got 50% less yield. But they found out they could charge twice the price. Seeing an opportunity for what it was, they elected to continue on that path, since improving the yield while reducing labor cost and environmental impact.
Returning to Eugene, Oregon, there’s a curious fact: Coconut Bliss is now produced in the processing plant of Lochmead Farms, a major regional dairy producer. Purists of both food and ethical basis might balk, but step back and look at the bigger picture: Lochmead is a local business, owned and run by the same family since the 1950s. They own their their cows, grow their own feed, and the farm and processing plant are only 5 miles apart. They sell their product through 42 local stores, all within 40 miles of their operations. They employ about 400 people and seek long term positive relations with them, whereas other area dairies use mostly benefitless temp workers.
No they aren’t organic, but by many other counts, they are an asset to the local economy and the environment.
So, the next time you’ve got that craving for ice cream, consider taking Coconut Bliss for a test drive.
Readers: What’s your take on local vs biologically appropriate farming? What other “under the radar” organic foods should we know about? Have you had Coconut Bliss? What’s your take?
More reading about food:
Good News for Nutraceuticals : Ecopreneurist